HIAS Welcomes UNHCR Guidelines on Draft Evasion—New Hope for Eritrean Asylum Seekers in Israel?
Posted by HIAS – NY on Fri, Jan 17, 2014 at 15:33 pm
In a welcome move, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) issued guidelines on refugee claims based on objection to military service. In addition to aiding governments and refugee advocates around the world, the guidelines will be particularly helpful to the government of Israel, which has a large backlog of Eritrean asylum claims on this basis. Israel’s current policy is to reject the asylum claims of those fleeing military service. Many Eritreans have fled indefinite conscription in a brutal military and face torture or “disappearance” if sent home. Could UNHCR’s new guidelines convince Israel to change its policy? We hope so.
Most of the 35,000 Eritrean asylum seekers in Israel have fled their country’s brutal military, where violence, torture, and sexual violence are endemic. U.S. asylum case law provides some powerful examples: one involves an Eritrean soldier who, as punishment for opposing military operations, was forced into the “helicopter” position while being beaten by fellow soldiers and then tied up in the same position, in the sun, for twenty-five days (Nuru v. Gonzales, 404 F.3d 1207 [9th Cir. 2005]).
Eritrean women conscripts are regularly exposed to sexual violence, which is carried out with impunity by commanding officers. Those who complain face severe retaliation, including underground detention, exposure to extreme heat and insects, and shaving of the head. One woman of mixed Ethiopian-Eritrean descent described being beaten, tied up, and left in the sun, and being made to sleep on the ground amid sheep’s blood (Solomon v. Gonzales, 454 F.3d 1160, 1162 [10th Cir. 2006]). Religious minorities who oppose military service are singled out for particularly harsh punishment.
HIAS welcomes the publication of these guidelines, particularly because they will provide much-needed guidance to the government of Israel as it evaluates the claims of Eritrean asylum seekers, many of whom have fled the dire conditions of Eritrean military service. In 2013, Israel’s government issued several dozen rejections of asylum claims on this basis; a large number of Eritreans in detention continue to wait for evaluation in 2014.
HIAS remains hopeful that UNHCR’s new guidelines will help reframe the government’s policy, leading to the protection of the many Eritrean draft evaders in Israel legitimately fearing torture, inhumane detention conditions, or death if returned home.